Much like real design studios, we’re always looking for ways to make our campuses more inspiring so our students have a stimulating place to work in. So far we have the talented designs of George Simkin, Spencer Harrison and Adam Busby brightening up the walls of our Shillington spaces.
But when it came to finding for a designer to breathe life into a chalk-board wall in our London campus there was only one man for the job, step up Joshua Harris—A Board Dude to his online fans. With a whopping 38.7K followers on Instagram, a portfolio teeming with impressive clients and his own line of accessories we wanted to find out more about what it’s really like to be a signwriter.
Read on to learn about the signwriting process, how to nail social media as a creative and tips for staying inspired.
Music—’Elephant by Saberteeth’
Sign writing has certainly made a resurgence in the modern design world, particularly within London. How did you find yourself working in the field?
It certainly has. But I was pretty oblivious to it when my journey began back in 2013. I kinda stumbled into it purely by chance while I was working at The Breakfast Club in Angel, London. I noticed their sandwich board design was looking pretty flaccid and decorated with outdated trivia. So, I scribbled on it. And another board. The big boss man, Jon took a liking to it, informed my manager at the time and she offered me a new role painting the boards at their four locations around the city every week! The rest is history.
You’ve worked with some fairly big names from Shake Shack to Instagram, what’s been your favourite piece to work on so far?
This is where I’m meant to proclaim “Shillington of course!” right? 😉 I kid. Or do I? It’s always pretty challenging narrowing my broad list of jobs, projects, and experiences down to one or two. There are definitely a couple of favourites in mind:
The Instagram location stickers campaign was pretty thrilling to be involved with; millions of people have been using and sharing my designs on their stories every day for the past few months—That’s nuts.
I now have some great contacts and talented peers to follow as a result of that project. Additionally, I loved creating the brand identity for Pizzeria Di Camden because I was given full creative license over all of the aesthetics; same again when I created the decorative and detailed mural for Maison D’Etre coffee house; but I could just say I also love the freedom my career gives me to do lil’ self-initiated campaigns throughout the months. Honestly, every project is pretty great.
Tell us about your tool kit—what materials would you be lost without as a sign writer?
First and foremost, my laptop and phone. They’re the first point of call. Everything begins with a visit to my site or Instagram page, which is then followed by an email or a call. This initial communication is crucial for ensuring a project can go ahead, or a fan of my work can be gained. I never leave the house without my roll-up pencil case, which, in actuality is stuffed mostly with pens and sharpening tools. If I’m off out working on a chalkboard, I’ll take the following: chalk markers, blackboard paint, a hair dryer, dry cloth, chalk, ruler and pounced work template if the job is big enough. If I’m painting a fascia logo or directional signage, I’ll take enamel paints and all the necessities for prepping the paint, along with my trusty Mahl stick.
In essence, every item I’ve listed is indispensable. It’s one big happy family of goods.
In terms of process, how do you normally approach a job from receiving a brief to applying the final design?
Depends on the brief. I’ve extended my skill set over the last few years, so I’m able to undertake branding and identity work, logo design, chalkboard lettering and enamel painting. Typically, everything starts with a sketch or ten. Most are unintelligible to the average person (sometimes even to me) but eventually, they develop into something more tangible. To speed the process up, I often use Adobe Illustrator to mock up the layout and see which style of typeface would be most suitable for the job. Clients love to see drafts and these are best presented in digital form, because they can be changed almost immediately, saving both parties time and essentially gifting me more freedom when finalising the design in the following stages. However, on some occasions, I can just rock up with my toolkit and build a piece of chalkboard lettering there and then, which is equal parts exciting and demanding. Preparation time is really important to my process, I find it much easier and less stressful to have a plan set up before I embark on the open road (which also helps reduce the risk of ghastly spelling mistakes as I habitually meditate while drawing a thousand words).
You’re pretty prolific on social media—particularly Instagram. Do you think using this medium is crucial for modern designers looking to build their client base and do you have any tips on how to nail online presence?
For me, yes. Instagram has been a crucial tool for sharing my work, process, and interests to literally thousands of people over the last few years and it’s been an exhilarating and rewarding journey to watch evolve. It’s a fantastic multi-dimensional platform that has a creatively diverse user base and is a great way to bring people and communities together to explore their own forms of expression. I know that comes across like a classic soundbite, but I really mean it. I love interacting with my fans and sharing advice and tips as often as my time allows, as well as finding inspiration in other artists’ incredible work and other influential profiles.
In terms of creating your own online presence, today’s digital society is obsessed with quality. So, make your shit good.
I’m not suggesting you have to be super talented or the most incredible athlete the world has ever seen, but do what you do with love, care and above all, pride. Take great photographs, go out of your way to surprise your followers with inspiration and freshness. Diversify your posts with alternating colour palettes and layouts, keeping it bright and engaging and above all, interact with your followers. This is so important.
Working predominantly with type your line of work calls for a multitude of styles from job to job. How do you stay inspired?
Adding to my previous point, it’s the scores of incredibly talented artists that I see all over the Instagram spectrum that inspire me every day. Their stunning work and continual evolutions from piece to piece inspire me to be better and work harder to keep up with their progress. I’m naturally competitive, but I don’t intend on ousting these gifted people, not at all, instead, I want to share my journey alongside them and anyone else perusing my profile. Knowing that a single post I share can inspire just one person to have a better day or alleviate a low mood is the only drive I need.
Finally, for students hoping to break into the sign writing scene do you have any advice?
Passion Projects. 100%. I’m in the process of building a few myself which I hope will launch me to the status I want to have. Lauren Hom is currently living the dream, after ditching her exhausting job to pursue a life of freelance, self-initiated passion projects. Nick Misani created the incredible Fausaics series that went viral after the first few posts. There’s no reason anyone can’t do something like that as well.
You’ve got to shout pretty loud just to break through the noise—be heard and get your shit out there!
Make it relatable, desirable and gorgeous and you’re guaranteed to progress. I’ll finish with the wise of words of (the slightly unhinged) Shia LeBeouf “Just do it! Don’t let your dreams be dreams!”
Huge thanks to Joshua for taking the time to answer our questions and give us such an awesome mural! Be sure to check out the rest of The A Board Dude’s work over on his website and his inspiring Instagram feed.
Come check out the mural in person at one of our Info Sessions! We regularly host Info Sessions at all of our campuses, head to our website to find out when the next one in London will be.